Thoughts on Reading Levels

A colleague of mine sent me this article last week, on reading levels, saying she found its content interesting. And I agree. It is interesting.

In my department, we’re about to make some huge curriculum changes, so reading level (and accessibility of text) is something I’m very sensitive about. This article reminds me that popular opinion suggests that the readability of a text can be reduced to quantitative measures (the same type of measure used to determine whether or not our students learned as much as they were “supposed to” over 75% of the school year).

The quantitative measure is great when used as single piece of data in a data set that also considers the prior knowledge of the reader as well as their developmental and emotional maturity.

Every book isn’t right for every reader, and those books in the cannon, while written at a “low” reading level, may also be inaccessible as a result of a students’ lack of familiarity with the cultural mores of the time in which its set (or their ignorance of historical context because history isn’t taught in so many elementary schools anymore).

I had an entire rant planned, but I’ve thought better of it. Let me reduce it down to this: teaching reading is challenging. Measuring reading and writing through quantitative measures only provides a small picture of the complexity of the text. And it is not that the American people are becoming poorer readers. It’s that the demands on reading texts have changed and an ability to critically read visual texts is just as important as an ability to critically read print-based text.


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